Tai Ping Shan and Macdonnell Road: A Tale of Two Cities
Now that we’ve decided to relocate the tailoring studio to our Aberdeen Street shop and move from our big Hollywood Road studio, we’ve been looking at old neighborhoods with new eyes, as you do. We’re very enamored with life on Hollywood Road and would like to stay as close by as possible, both so we can walk to work and also because it is one of the more interesting parts of town. Though it is a neighborhood increasingly popular with the expat set, and fancy restaurants are as common now as noodle stalls, it still feels very old Hong Kong, even if some of that is engineered for tourists and people like me.
Outside the antique shops on Cat Street
Definitely worth framing
Obviously there are certain drawbacks living on one of the city’s main drags, particularly one that’s gentrifying at such a brisk clip. Luckily, one needn’t stroll too far onto the side streets, alley ways, and terraces to find those same qualities that make life on Hollywood Road so pleasant. Tai Ping Shan Road runs parallel to Hollywood Road one level up the hill and was, during the colonial years, the dense centre of the island’s Chinese population, as the British claimed for themselves Central, the Mid-Levels and the Peak.It is still a very charming area of old low-rise buildings and temples, some of them little more than alters by the side of the road, some of them quite ancient and enfolded into housing estates and the like.
This temple, I believe, is one of the oldest in Hong Kong. The back is all that remains of the exterior, as it has been completely engulfed in the housing estate with which it is now joined
The next street up from Tai Ping Shan Road is Po Hing Fong, a lovely street sheltered by two giant banyan trees in a neighboring park. In the colonial era, the whole area around these streets was called Tai Ping Shan. Now the area is a mix of tenements, schools, parks and the Tung Wah Hospital complex.
Sometime in the 1950s, the entire neighborhood was razed and rebuilt due to an outbreak of Plague in the late nineteenth-century that killed thousands over a thirty year period. One of the few surviving relics of the era is now the Museum of Medical Sciences (pictured above); housed in a lovely Victorian mansion that served as a sanitarium during the outbreak, the museum is as creepy as it is quirky.
In house hunting mode, it is futile to think how much nicer it might be with new tenants
On second thought, the current occupants don’t look like they’re going anywhere…
To this point, the exhibition has been only mildly disturbing…
Behind this door, though, it turns to crazy nightmare territory….
The refrigerated autopsy room, complete with ax, pincer and crowbar set
Just as Tai Ping Shan and it’s surroundings are so evocative and rich with relics from of Chinese life in the old days of Hong Kong, there’s no other neighborhood that feels quite so quintessentially British as the Eastern Mid-Levels. Later in the evening, we went for dinner at our friend’s house on Macdonnell Road and after a few glasses of wine needing walking off, decided to stroll home. The typhoon Chanthu was still making its way towards us, so it was breezy and slightly electric feeling. Though there are as many high rise apartments as there are anywhere else on this island, there are also quite a few low-rise apartment buildings from the 1940s and 50s, though they are decidedly posher than their counterparts on the Western side of town, and where there were temples before, here there are churches and colleges.
At the start of Macdonnell Road, on Kennedy Terrace, sits what used to be Manks, an antique shop specialising in mid-twentieth century furniture but now standing forlornly empty, waiting the wrecking ball that has reduced so much of this city’s remarkable past. We indulged in a moment of fantasy, as you do: an apartment on the top floor, shop and studio on the ground floor.
And then, of course, reality, as it always does, reared its sometimes un-lovely head.